Tag Archives: Scott Ludlam

SWF 2019 Saturday

My second day at the festival turned out to be fairly light on – just two events.

We had double booked for the 11.30 am session, and reluctantly chose to pass on to friends our tickets to Akala‘s sold-out session (the Festival has a no-refunds and virtually no exchanges policy). The Emerging Artist then went to The Kingdom and the Power: Saudi Arabia, and I went to:


Poetic Justice. This was in ‘Track 12’, a small theatre space that was only about a fifth full, but soundproff. Dunya Mikhail, Iraqi journalist and poet now living in the USA exile was in conversation with US poet Michael Kelleher.

Dunya Mikhail’s most recent work is a non-fiction prose work, The Beekeeper of Sinjar, but for the sake of this session she was a poet. Unusually, I turned up with a question in mind. Having learned from an excellent issue of Southerly edited by Laetitia Nanquette and Ali Alizadeh that poetry occupies a central and honoured place in Iranian culture, I wondered if the same was true of Iraq. The question was given added point by the apparent discontinuation of the lively strand of poetry events that has previously been a major attraction of the festival for me, and by Fiona Wright’s admittedly facetious defensiveness about her poet identity on Friday.

My question was answered resoundingly in the positive. Actually, it was implicitly answered in Dunya Mikhail’s whole demeanour and way of speaking. Michael Kelleher asked her to the title poem from her first collection, The War Works Hard, which manages to be both slyly witty and devastating, and then invited her to talk about her first 15 years, the only years of her life when there has not been war in Iraq. She painted a marvellous picture: children in Baghdad lived their lives on the roofs or the streets. It’s a big city, but if a child wandered too far from home, someone would always bring them back.

She spoke of the ancient Mesopotamian practice of burying people with food and water to sustain their bodies on the journey of the dead, and poetry to nourish their souls. And it is still the practice in Iraq to have poetry recited at funerals – bad poetry at her father’s funeral, she said. There is a strong oral poetry tradition of which the funeral poems are a part, and poetry is held in high esteem: when she was about to go into exile, a friend was concerned, not whether she would be able to continue working as a journalist (she hasn’t really) but whether she would sill be recognised as a poet (she has been).

Though was brought up Catholic, religious, ethnic, or linguistic differences weren’t used as pretexts for mistreatment in her childhood, she said: the oppressive regime was pretty even handed on those matters. And the Qur’an has a surah about poets.

Asked if the 1001 Nights had been an influence, she said not directly: she had heard many of those stories, and others, from her grandmother, and they had found their way into her poetry.

Poetry, she said, has literally saved her life: she put ‘Poet’ on her passport when she thought she was going to travel to the US as a young woman; that fell through, but much later when she was fleeing the country because it had become seriously dangerous to be a journalist, the official at the airport noted that she was a ‘Poet’, and waved her through.

She spoke interestingly about translation. Poetry, she realised when she started writing poetry in the US, was her true homeland. Now, she writes her poems in Arabic and translates them herself. She prefers to do this because she has more freedom than a translator who is not her. In effect, she produces two distinct poems.

I don’t think I mentioned that yesterday, talking about mental illness, Fiona Wright and Luke Carman agreed that writing didn’t work terribly well as therapy. Dunya Mikhail echoed their sentiment in response to a question about the role of poetry in terrible situations such as Saddam’s Iraq or the decades of war since his overthrow. ‘My poetry,’ she said, ‘will not save. Poetry doesn’t heal a wound, but it is a way to see it and understand it.’

Michael Kelleher was an exemplary interlocutor – self effacing, well-informed, flexible, and asking questions that opened doors.


We went home for lunch etcetera, then I caught the bus back intending to go to the 3 o’clock session, Blak Brow: Blak Women Take Control, with Evelyn Araluen and other first Nations women poets. But it was a free session and I’d forgotten about the SWF queues. I arrived at 2.45 to see a queue of about 30 people, who turned out to be the ones who were left over once the room was full. So I went home and finished blogging about Friday.


After an early dinner we went downtown for Lie to Me: An Evening of Storytelling at Sydney Town Hall. Our tickets were for General Admission in the stalls, so we arrived with more than half an hour to spare. The queue must have been at least thousand people long, but we eventually got decent seats, and the readers/performers all appeared on a huge screen as well as in their tiny persons, so all was well.

I hadn’t looked closely at the program, and was half expecting a fun evening along the lines of that British TV show where you have to guess whether a panellist is telling an outrageous lie or an even more outrageous truth. That’s not what I got.

Benjamin Law, warm, suave and revealing his naked ankles, did a great job as host. Each of six story-tellers delivered their piece, and then had a brief chat with him.

Patricia Cornelius, whose plays I’m ashamed to say I’ve not seen any of, read the powerful opening monologue from a new play, Julia, which turned out to be about child sexual abuse and the Catholic church, and added something I didn’t understand about Julian Assange. Chatting with Benjamin, she said she didn’t care for naturalistic drama, and often wrote dialogue in a very poetic move, but no one seemed to notice.

Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran’s opening gambit was to say that though she knew we expected her to talk about politics, she was going to tell some long concealed truths about herself. ‘I was a concubine in Saudi Arabia for ten years,’ she said, and before we could even gasp, she went on, ‘It was fun.’ She then reeled off a string of sordid, deeply cynical and increasingly improbable confessions. All these things had been written about her, she said, and not by Twitter trolls but by prominent journalists. She went on to talk about the absence of shame about lying in public life under neo-liberalism, and not only in Turkey. The idea of freedom, she said, has been corrupted so that it now applies only to consumption and sex.

Tim Soutphommasane, former Race Discrimination Commissioner, spoke soberly of the foundational stories of Australia, about our fabled egalitarianism and commitment to the fair go, which he argued don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Nayuka Gorrie, a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer, warmed us up by chatting about the Harry Potter movie where Harry is accused of lying when he has told an uncomfortable truth, and his punished includes ‘I must not tell lies’ being magically carved into the sin of his arm. Then they spoke powerfully about the lies that colonisation depended on – White lies about Black truths, repeated in currucilums, in literature, in speeches, until they become accepted as truths.

Oyinkan Braithwaite gave a deceptively modest talk. She began with assertions young women make to each other. ‘All men are cheats,’ for example. And she talked about things she learned about the oppression of women in Nigeria when she challenged these assertions.

Scott Ludlam was the only one in my festival who spoke about climate change. Memorably, he said that the Antarctic ice shelfs haven’t even heard of Tony Abbott.

And the evening finished with a song by Megan Washington: I’m probably showing my age here, but I wish they’d managed to get Tim Minchin.

The Invitation (conclusion)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment takes us to the end.

A lone voice in the chamber, he goes on.
‘You’re planning to destroy the NBN;
your A-G, Brandis, bows before the con
of NSA snoop-crimes (has he no yen
for self-respect?). And now the word has gone
out on the Web. Nerds, geeks and coders, then
gamers, are for the first time turning Green,
thanks to your tech-illiterate machine.

‘Most deeply, your campaign to stir up fear –
of people fleeing violence and war –
hoping Australians would accept the smear
and bring our worst impulses to the fore,
instead is bringing out the best. Oh dear
PM, you are most welcome to take your
heartless racist policies and ram
them where tax-payer funded travel scams

‘are hidden and the western sun don’t shine.
What is at stake on by-election day
is whether this man owns the root and vine
of parliament for years. Another way:
we want our country back. Chance, not design,
some ballots lost, required this replay:
we have the opportunity to wrest
one seat back now. Game on, PM. Come west.’

Scott Ludlam, Greens, in purple tie, sat down
to no applause, but now, if your desire is
to see the whole thing, you can go to town
on YouTube where it’s spreading like a virus.

Go, little poem. I pray that Scott won’t frown
at this hommage from one of his admirers.
I’ve changed some meanings, forced by Rhyme, the hoodlum.
What’s vile is mine, what’s fine is made by Ludlam.

Here ends the poem. The Senate by-election campaign is in full swing in WA. Scott Ludlam’s Twitter handle is @SenatorLudlam.

The Invitation (part three)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment, only three stanzas, takes us to 5:47 of 7:34.

‘It’s 30 years since Greens first called for sanity
against the Cold War nuclear suicide pact.
We’ve fanned the flames for renewable energy.
We’ve fought for values too often attacked:
innovation, learning and equality.
We’ve honoured the First Peoples, and we’ve backed
worldwide resistance to the damage from
worldwide misuse of our uranium.

‘Mr Abbott, your deeds have been noted.
Perth light rail’s millions cancelled, that’s been noted.
Blank cheque for bloody cull of sharks here, noted.
Medicare, schools funding attacks, noted.
Environmental duties outsourced, noted.
Sell-out to Hollywood and biotech, noted.
Between big business and the common good:
we note each time you choose. We note it good.

‘So to be blunt, Prime Minister, the reason
I invite you over west for as much time
as you can spare, is that in pre-poll season
your every utterance makes our vote climb.
Your fracker friends and their like might just breeze in
but hundreds see their actions as a crime
and in the last few weeks have knocked on doors
of thousands more. Your presence helps our cause.’

To be concluded, hopefully tomorrow.

The Invitation (part two)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment, only three stanzas, takes us to 3:13 of 7:34.

‘Sandgropers have a generous, welcoming soul,
but if when here you boast of your endeavour
to bankrupt the alternatives to coal,
hamstring the ABC, and also sever
state funds from SBS, to dig a hole
and bury same-sex marriage; of your ever
more insidious attacks on work-
ing people, then we’ll treat you like a jerk.

‘Life’s hard enough without three years of you
and your lot working hard to make things worse.
Awkward that you seek out the point of view
of billionaires and oligarchs averse
to Sunday loadings, decent pay – ah, true,
less awkward than revolting. But this curse
will pass. Your sad benighted time won’t last.
We need to raise our sights. The world is vast.

‘The reign of dinosaurs in the cretaceous
was cut short – Oops! dead, buried and cremated!
A like surprise may lurk – Oh goodness gracious! –
in store for you, Hon Tony, perhaps you’re slated
to be just a thin greasy layer of ashes
for research into politics that’s dated
early 21st CE.’ I smile.
He’s having fun. Chris Kenny called it vile.

To be continued. (Chris Kenny’s exchange with Senator Ludlam at the link is amusing.)

The Invitation (part one)

Eighteen months or so ago, I ventured on the huge (for me) task of versifying an Alan Jones press conference. You can read its five parts here, here, here, here and here. It wasn’t great art but it was fun to do. For quite different reasons – hommage rather than dommage – I’ve undertaken  a similar thing with a recent speech by WA Senator Scott Ludlam. My versification is no match for the eloquence of the original, and the ruthless demands of rhyme result in quite a bit of distortion of the meaning. I’ve skipped over some bits, in particular some party-political moments, but I hope I’ve captured something of the speech’s greatness. Here’s Part One, which takes us to 1:47 of the 7:34 video:

The Invitation
The Senate chamber, ten at night, when bed
or business has led all to quit the scene
save two, who sit in the expanse of red –
not red themselves: a Liberal and a Green.
Scott Ludlam stands to say what must be said,
main audience a future YouTube screen:
his last speech in this place before the poll
to make up for the one that someone stole.

‘Tonight I rise,’ he says, ‘to bid you come,
Prime Minister, to visit my home state,
the beautiful Westralia. Do please come.
I ask in all good faith, because our fate
is on the line. I ask respectfully: come.
You’re welcome here, but please first contemplate
the baggage that you pack for your stopover,
though it be brief, a campaign supernova.

‘You will alight on Whadjuk Nyoongar earth
where Derbal Yerigan (the Swan)’s been sung,
two hundred times as long as there’s been Perth.
Mount Druitt’s further off than Mount Agung.
The drought here’s never-ending. There’s a dearth
of housing fit for purchase by the young.
We live with climate change, we know it drives
the loss of jobs, and property and lives.

‘Prime Minister, I beg you, leave back east
your boring three-word slogans. Read us right!
Not as redneck monsters whose hearts feast
on Manus Island horrors. Though you might
call us ‘the mining state’ as if the beast
that benches, chops and  blasts as if by right
a third of this great continent was us.’
Mild mannered, neat, he turns a page. No fuss.

To be continued.